Monday, September 10, 2012

Courting Elgin

Last year when the fires were raging, Jim Carpenter paid a visit to Bastrop County. Not to offer to help. Not to suggest a reduction in the obscene tax benefits bestowed by the 381 Agreement. Nope. As we discovered from the ‘lost’ documents featured in Pants on fire!, he came to wheel and deal with the Elgin Economic Development Corporation. The correspondence is sparse and there still seem to be gaps in the ‘land of the lost’. What we have of the story so far is collected in three ‘clumps’ of emails.

The first email ‘clump’ starts with this from Joe Newman, director of the Elgin EDC to David Glass, the president of the EEDC on September 20, 2011:

“I had a meeting this morning with some Central Texas Airport reps and they want our support of that project and another development that I had worked on while I was in Bastrop.

“They gave me a 3-page Confidentiality Agreement to sign and I plan to let our attorney look at it at tonight’s council meeting. They would also like you to sign it and attend a meeting with them where they will show us their business plan, financials, investors, etc.

“I know we need to handle this carefully since a lot of folks are against the project and specifically Jim Carpenter.”

To which David Glass responded the same day:

“I will be happy to meet with them. Your [sic] right about needing to handle it carefully. However, I feel we need to stay close to the developers just in case they can pull it off.”

Then a few days later on the 22 Joe Newman follows up with:

“I had our attorney look at the confidentiality agreement that the developer asked me to sign. They would also like you to be in the meeting and ask that you sign the document also. Would that be OK? This is much more than just the airport project. . . .”

This little exchange speaks volumes about the modus operandi of the development community - confidentiality agreements, deals behind closed doors, disdain (and fear) of public scrutiny and always ready to jump on the next enticing project.

Then about a week later on September 30 in the second flurry of emails, this pops up from Joe Newman to Jim Carpenter with a cc to David Glass:

“. . . I spoke with David Glass, Pres. of Elgin EDC board, last night and he said that he was very sorry to have missed your presentation yesterday and offered to meet you in Austin or wherever you prefer.

I’m going to cc David so you two can communicate directly if you like. . . .”

Here’s an excerpt from Jim Carpenter’s predictable response to Joe Newman and David Glass later that day:

“. . . I think it is very important the we assemble a group of trusted leaders in Elgin that are willing to work with us in a mutually beneficial manner. Some of the best and most loyal support that our project has received in Bastrop County has come from Elgin and we want to return the favor to those who have helped us. We are attempting to provide valuable advance information but only to certain individuals in Elgin that we can trust to maintain our critically important confidentiality until we make the announcement in concert with the respective businesses and their executives… “

If there was a meeting on September 29, there is no indication of it in the documents we have received from the ORR to the City of Elgin. Where was it held? Who was present? Did it even happen? The gap in the flow of correspondence seems rather suspect.

After a few days, the final emails include this from Paul Grabowski to Joe Newman and David Glass on October 3:

“Sorry we were unable to meet last week at Joe Newman office. We would like to schedule a meeting for this Thursday morning at 9am to discuss the Central Texas Airport project and two other major projects within the same area. Is that a good time for you? Please advise… The meeting will be in Joe Newman office conference room.

“We have also invited the following, Ronnie Moore, Bastrop County Engineer, Keith Snowden, Donna Jordan and Ed Rivers may attend .

“Jim Carpenter of Central Texas Airport. Robert Leffingwell and I will be presenters at the meeting.”

Yet another meeting involving several previously unmentioned players. Note that some recipients of this email were redacted. Now there are two other major projects? Are they related to the airport? Joe Newman was out of town and unable to attend the meeting but who else participated? Or did it even happen?

Two names on the list of invitees might have caught your attention - Ed Rivers, President of the Elgin Chamber now running for Bastrop County Judge and Ronnie Moore, Bastrop County Engineer. Is Ronnie Moore’s involvement with the EEDC and specifically the CTA project a conflict of interest with his position as Bastrop County Engineer? Other documents in StopCTA’s possession offer some insight.

Nowhere in these documents is there a description of what Carpenter was selling or what the other projects were. A call to Joe Newman was marginally informative. He claims that the specifics of Carpenter’s deal were never unveiled, that the Confidentiality Agreement was never signed and that Jim Carpenter has been MIA since then. Readers will have to come to their own conclusions about the veracity of that information.

And remember all this was happening while Bastrop was burning. That just feels soooo wrong . . .

There are still more questions than answers about what went down in Elgin and StopCTA is working very hard to answer each and every one.

A few answers . . .

StopCTA has learned (hopefully reliably) that the October 6 meeting did happen and that Ronnie Moore was not in attendance. Still no clue about the other independent but ‘airport related’ projects that were pitched at the same time. Mention of this meeting seems to trigger amnesia!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Pants on fire!

The denouement of this little ‘gotcha’ has taken about a year to unravel. It is a real whopper!

On March 21, 2011, StopCTA gave a presentation on the proposed Central Texas Airport to the Bastrop Economic Development Corporation (BEDC). At that time the BEDC was in transition. Joe Newman, the current Director of the Elgin Economic Development Corporation (EEDC) had just left the same position at the BEDC where he had served for over a decade.

Months later on October 11, 2011, StopCTA was one of three concerned citizens to provide comments at an EEDC meeting.

Earlier that year, Mr. Newman had stated that the BEDC did not have an ‘official’ position regarding the airport. The same position was offered in regards to the EEDC. We were also told in October that EEDC had not heard anything from Mr. Carpenter .

After the EEDC presentation, StopCTA submitted an Open Records Request (ORR) to the City of Elgin on October 18, 2011 for documents concerning the proposed Central Texas Airport. The results of that research were posted on December 05, 2011 in What’s up with Elgin. It all seemed so ho-hum.

Then in mid-August 2012, nearly a year later, StopCTA received documents from another source that contained correspondence to the City of Elgin that was responsive to the October 18, 2011 ORR but not provided. StopCTA immediately sent another ORR with the following contained in the cover letter:

I previously submitted an ORR to you on October 18, 2011 which was posted by Sheets & Crossfield on October 31, 2011. I now have in my possession documents obtained from another source that were sent to the City of Elgin before October 18, 2011 and were responsive to my request but not provided to me. So I have revised my current ORR to give City of Elgin an opportunity to include responsive documents that you may have previously overlooked.

The next business day, Sheets & Crossfield (the City of Elgin attorneys) called for clarification of the ORR request because they were told there was nothing other than what was previously provided. The sequence of events was explained. A few days later there was yet another call to discuss documents that had now miraculously been located. The explanation? The documents must have been ‘misfiled’. Just how does one ‘misfile’ an email? Even after all this, there is no way to know whether we have now been given all the relevant documents. Oh, well . . . so much for transparency in government.

The ‘lost’ documents responsive to the second ORR indicate, in their own words, that the City of Elgin and Mr. Newman had been less than forthcoming in response to our queries about Elgin’s involvement with the proposed Central Texas Airport. Details of those documents will be posted separately.

This just keeps getting better and better!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Into a pumpkin

It’s been two long, stress-filled years since the 381 Agreement for the proposed Central Texas Airport was approved by the Bastrop County Commissioners Court. Finally a few hours ago at the stroke of midnight on June 30, 2012, the deadline for the commencement phase of the CTA expired . . . not with a bang but a whimper. Hopefully, the developer’s failure to deliver will be the beginning of the end of this project.

Other than the 381 Agreement in which former County Judge Ronnie McDonald and the late Precinct 4 Commissioner Lee Dildy played a major part, this project received little support and encountered a series of insurmountable obstacles.

A year before the 381 Agreement was signed, the developer attempted to introduce a bill into the 2009 Legislative session that would have allowed annexation of airport land to the Cottonwood Creek WCID#3 in Travis County in order to create a Municipal Utility District at the airport site. Thankfully, the bill garnered little support and was never even introduced for consideration.

In conjunction with the proposed legislation, a pitch for the project was presented at a Special Session of the Bastrop County Commissioners Court in April of 2009. At that event, public opposition to the project became quite clear even though interaction with outraged citizens was limited. Thankfully, the Commissioners opted not to actively support the proposed legislation.

The following day the Bastrop City Council heard the same from the developer. The COB was as uncooperative as the legislature and pro-actively voted to draft a resolution of non-support for the project.

Despite the failures with the legislature and the COB, negotiations for the 381 Agreement with Bastrop County under the guidance of judge McDonald and Commissioner Dildy quietly - and without any public input - began in the fall of 2009 culminating with its approval in June of 2010.

With the 381 Agreement in hand, the developer sought to gain wider support and entice additional investors in the fall of 2010 at an invitation only media opportunity at the Bob Bullock Museum that unveiled plans for a new element of the project - Eco-Merge. Both Judge McDonald and Commissioner Dildy conspicuously attended that event. We now know that Eco-Merge is no longer part of the airport equation due to lack of funding.

The Bullock event also marked the beginning of a second attempt to introduce legislation for the Cottonwood Creek WCID#3 at the upcoming 2011 Legislative session. As in 2009, the Cottonwood bill was a non-issue and the City of Bastrop once again failed to offer support support for the project.

It was about this time that the USACE became involved with the proposed CTA. But the contact was NOT initiated by the developer. An April 19, 2012 letter from Stephen Brooks to the developer summarizes the circumstances:

“In mid to late October 2010, my office began receiving numerous phone calls from concerned citizens regarding a proposed airport to be located in Bastrop County. In an effort to determine if the project would require a Section 404 permit, my staff located CTA’s website and on October 29, 2010 contacted the CTA to invite them to consider requesting a pre-application meeting to discuss their proposal.”

This resulted in a Notice of the Permit Application requesting public comments on March 25, 2011. An Environmental Information Document (EID) which was requested in the fall of 2010 was finally submitted in August 2011. The Corps found the EID lacking and requested additional issues be addressed. A second EID was submitted in January of 2012 but the mitigation section was still found found to be inadequate. To date no additional documentation has been submitted and therefore no permits issued. But that is certainly not the Corps fault.

It appears that this project is on life support. But is the nightmare really over? Unfortunately, not quite as there are still unanswered questions. Is the developer’s failure to meet the requirements of the 381 Agreement an automatic ‘pink slip’? What is the mechanism to deliver the news to the developer? And how long will it take?

So while the CTA/Eco-Merge project seems to have turned into a pumpkin at the stroke of midnight, there’s no telling when (or if) the County will serve the citizens of this county a celebratory pie.

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